It’s beginning to look a lot like the war on Christmas.
Or rather, the annual controversy — inspired by the 2005 book “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought” — about whether or not there is such a thing.
President-elect Donald Trump, in his postelection victory tour, is casting himself as the protector of the celebration — or, at least, the traditional greeting associated with it. “When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we’re going to come back here someday and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump said on Tuesday. “Merry Christmas — so, Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”
But, belying the implication that America’s favorite holiday is under assault, President Obama wrapped up his final news conference of the year Friday afternoon by wishing Americans “Merry Christmas.” Earlier this month, he presided over the lighting of the national Christmas tree on the Ellipse, something he has done every year he has served in the White House. In fact, during the month of December, Obama and the first lady host numerous seasonal receptions, including a Hanukkah party at the presidential mansion, which is decorated with all the traditional trimmings of the Christmas season: enormous beribboned pine trees, candy canes, and ornamental wreaths.
As with so much about the new president-elect, Trump’s views on the greeting have varied over time. Since 2012 he has been consistent in accusing people of diminishing the Christian holy day with secular seasonal greetings. “Other people can have their holidays, but Christmas is Christmas,” Trump told the Values Voters Summit in September, reiterating his stance. “I want to see ‘Merry Christmas.’ Remember the expression ‘Merry Christmas’? You don’t see it anymore! You’re going to see it if I get elected, I can tell you right now.”
Trump himself has wished people “Happy holidays” on many occasions, as have employees of his properties. His 2015 holiday card wished people “Merry Christmas + Happy Holidays,” and he has tweeted “Happy holidays” to people on multiple occasions over the years. The Trump Hotel Collection Tumblr wished people “Happy Holidays” last year, and the Trump Organization’s reception at the tower on Wednesday was described as a Christmas party at times and at other times as a holiday party, according to the pool reporter in attendance. Visible in the reception area, where the press waited, was “a Hanukkah menorah with nine unlit bulbs.”
And that gets to one part of the seasonal debate that’s new this year: Trump’s own family is an interfaith one. Son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish, as is Kushner’s wife, presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, who reportedly is considering taking up some of the mantle of first lady in Washington while Trump’s wife, Melania, remains behind in Manhattan with son Barron.
That would make her the first Jewish first daughter in the U.S. — and, if she takes on the first lady role, the first Jewish person to fill that role too.
That family diversity also raises questions about how the president-elect will navigate the wealth of religious holidays now celebrated by the White House. Obama became the first sitting president to host a White House Passover Seder, held in the spring — a tradition that seems likely to continue in the new White House.
But President George W. Bush and President Obama have come in for mockery from the right for offering greetings for Kwanzaa, an African-American cultural festival, and both also have marked Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which often falls in December. Bush was the first president to mark both holidays from the White House.
Trump has called himself “a big fan of Hindu,” but his campaign rhetoric about Muslim Americans raises questions about the fate of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr reception at the White House; at this year’s observance, Obama wished guests “Eid mubarak” (blessed celebration) and thanked them for “sharing words from the holy Koran.”
George W. Bush also held Eid commemorations at the White House and in 2001, he hosted the first White House iftar, a dinner that breaks the fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The first Eid reception by a presidential family was hosted by Hillary Clinton in 1996 in the Executive Office Building next door to the White House. Clinton called it a “historic and overdue occasion.”